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Same-sex marriage now legal in 31 countries

As India awaits the Delhi HC hearing on same-sex marriages on February 3, a look at the situation across the globe

In India, homosexuality was decriminalised in 2018, but same-sex marriages are yet to be legally recognised.
In India, homosexuality was decriminalised in 2018, but same-sex marriages are yet to be legally recognised. (Photo by Jasmin Sessler on Unsplash)

On Tuesday, Chilean lawmakers approved a same-sex marriage bill, by a landslide vote. According to a report in NPR, the law extends full parental rights to same-sex parents and expands spousal benefits and adoption rights for married same-sex couples. 

With this move, Chile joined 30 other countries that have legalised same-sex marriage.

However, homosexuality remains banned in many parts of the world. In India, homosexuality was decriminalised in 2018, but same-sex marriages are yet to be legally recognised. A batch of petitions in Delhi High Court are seeking same-sex marriages to be legalised under the special, Hindu and foreign marriage laws in India.

The HC was set to hear the pleas on November 30, but listed the matter on February 3, after the petitioners requested for the proceedings to be livestreamed, calling it matter of national importance. The HC also issued notices for three more pleas from same-sex couples seeking recognition of their marriages, taking the count of these petitions up to a total of eight.

In the meantime, a look at the situation across the globe.

Europe, gay marriage pioneers

On October 1, 1989, for the first time in the world, several gay couples in Denmark tied the knot in civil unions, which while giving their relationships a legal standing fell short of full marriage.

It was the Netherlands that first allowed gay marriages, giving more rights in April 2001.

Since then 16 European countries have followed suit in accepting gay marriages: Austria, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and most recently Switzerland.

Other European countries allow only weaker civil partnerships for the LGBTQ community -- including Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy and Slovenia, which rejected gay marriages in a 2015 referendum.

Also Read: The tentative rise of gay weddings on Indian screens

The Czech government has backed draft legislation that would make the country the first post-communist member of the European Union to legalise same-sex marriage, but its fate is uncertain.

In Romania a referendum aimed at enshrining a ban on gay marriage in the constitution failed in 2018 because of a low turnout.

Progress in the Americas

Canada was the first American country to authorise same-sex marriage in 2005.

In 2015 the US Supreme Court legalised gay marriage nationwide at a time when it was banned in 14 out of 50 states.

However the United States' first gay marriage actually took place in 1971, when a Minnesota couple obtained a marriage licence thanks to an overlooked legal loophole. The marriage was officially recognised in March 2019, after a five-decade legal battle.

In Latin America six countries allow same-sex marriages: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay and Costa Rica, which rubber-stamped it last year.

Mexico's federal capital authorised gay marriages in 2009. Half of its 32 states have followed.

Chile legalised gay civil unions in 2015, and its congress on Tuesday passed a bill legalising full-blown same-sex marriage.

Cuba left changes that would have paved the way for legal same-sex marriage out of its new constitution adopted in 2019. In 2021, a draft of a new family code opened the door to same-sex marriage, but it will be put to a referendum.

Taiwan, first in Asia

While much of Asia is tolerant of homosexuality, in May 2019 Taiwan became the first in the region to allow gay marriage.

In Japan, a court in northern Sapporo ruled in 2021 that the country's failure to recognise same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, in a landmark first verdict on the issue.

Also Read: Why LGBTQ+ Indians deserve the right to marry

Australia (2017) and New Zealand (2013) are the only places in the wider Asia-Pacific region to have passed gay marriage laws.

In the Middle East, where homosexuality is repressed, Israel leads the way in terms of gay rights, recognising same-sex marriages that are sealed elsewhere although not allowing such unions in the country itself.

Several countries in the conservative region still have the death penalty for homosexuality, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Africa: marriage in one country

South Africa is the sole nation on the African continent to allow gay marriage, which it legalised in 2006.

Around 30 African countries ban homosexuality, with Mauritania, Somalia and Sudan having the death penalty for same-sex relations.

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